In our parasha, Terumah, we find the first case of a fundraising campaign dedicated to construction of The Temple.
The first tabernacle was designed with the amenities which we encounter at every house, such as a table, a lamp, a sink, which are basic pieces of furniture that make the house habitable. This, of course, raises the question: does God need a house to live in? We know that God is transcendental and cannot be limited to a specific place. As per King Solomon’s words, when inaugurating the Temple in Jerusalem: “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built”!
So, what is the meaning of this commandment to build a “house” for God? The sages of the Midrash sought to answer this question, and did so through a parable:
“Once, a prince asked to marry a king’s only daughter, wanting to take her to his own country. The king said to him: My daughter that I am giving you is mine. I cannot separate myself from her. But also, I cannot tell you not to leave, because she’s your wife. But do me this favor, that wherever you go, make me a special space and decorate it properly for me, so I know I can come always to be with my daughter, because I cannot leave her.”
This is what God told the people of Israel: I gave you the Torah. On one hand I cannot separate myself from the Torah, but on the other hand I can’t not give it to you. So, wherever you go, make me a house where I will dwell, as it is said, “And make me a temple.”
By using this interesting parable, the sages explained the need for a temple to house the Torah when it was given to Israel.
The tabernacle is the result of the great story of the people who received the Torah and took upon themselves the task of living a moral and holy life, while serving as an example to all nations. When the Torah was given to the people of Israel, it seemed as if God separated Himself from it. This is how the Talmud describes a dispute between some sages in the Land of Israel, two thousand years ago.
A halachic dispute turned into a principled debate, when Rabbi Eliezer who was in a minority position, said to the rest, if the halacha is like him, it will be proven to be from heaven! “Divine voice ” came out of heaven and said: What do you have with Rabbi Eliezer who walked like him everywhere! Rabbi Yehoshua stood on his feet and said: we don’t care! Since The Torah was already given on Mount Sinai, the sovereignty of her interpretation must be according to the knowledge and the rules we have for her interpretation, but not according to divine mystery.
Indeed, the Torah was given by God to Israel and left to the interpretation of the sages. On the other hand, God is not ready to separate himself from the it. A complete separation between the Torah and its heavenly source will lead to changes in interpretation as trends change. What is seen as moral and righteous in one generation may be seen as old-fashioned or naive in another. Treating the Torah as a text that can be given any plausible interpretation is a spiritual tragedy, which ultimately results in the loss of any connection with Judaism.
This why God is not separate from Torah. He instructed how the temple was to be built for him so that we remember the ‘Father’ of the Torah did not leave it.
Human interpretation Torah cannot be unrestricted of. It must be subject to the principles of a long-standing tradition and is obliged to be treated seriously and responsibly.
Rabbi Refael Cohen